Music News: March 5, 2013
When Michael J. Savage speaks, especially about opera, attention should be paid.
Managing Director of the San Francisco Opera, 1994-1999, the former international oil executive oversaw a major renovation of the War Memorial Opera House; served as board chair of the S.F. Conservatory of Music, Savage worked from 2000 to 2004 as Executive Director and a board member of both the Napa Valley Opera House and Lincoln Theater in Yountville, overseeing their reconstruction and initial operation.
So what is he up to now? Encouraging attendance to the Livermore Valley Opera production of La traviata in Napa where, he says, on March 13, "for the first time in its 130+ year history grand opera will be presented on the Napa Valley Opera House stage." His enthusiasm comes from attending a rehearsal of the work, "Verdi at the height of his powers and full of the most glorious music":
Rebecca Davis (a graduate of the Merola Opera Program) has a magnificent voice, and she sings and acts the part of Violetta with real conviction. I've seen Traviata many times but this Violetta moved me to tears. It would be worth seeing this Traviata just for Ms. Davis, but her fellow principals act and sing beautifully too, including Torlef Borsting (Germont), David Gustafson (Alfredo), and Daniel Cilli (Baron Douphol).
At any one time, there are upwards of 50 performers onstage, a full-throated chorus backing up the principals — it all adds up to a thrilling evening, one you will want to see or regret missing.
This Napa performance is an experiment. A few months ago, Bob Almeida, chair of the Opera House board, asked me to help bring opera back to the Opera House, and this Livermore Valley Opera production is the first result. If you want this experiment to succeed and encourage us to book future shows I urge you to come.
To help cover the costs (which ticket sales alone never do), please also come with us to the pre-show "Violetta Party" for an additonal $35. All details online or by phone.
The Livermore production comes from the company's Bankhead Theater, where it is performed March 9, 10, 16, and 17. Alexander Katsman conducts, the stage director is Brian Luedloff.
Whatever the outcome of the Napa Traviata in attracting audiences, Savage is already preparing for the next production: "On May 3 at 8 p.m. and May 5 at 3 p.m., we'll be presenting the Adler Fellows accompanied by Ben Simon's San Francisco Chamber Orchestra in a double bill - Mozart's Bastien et Bastienne and Samuel Barber's A Hand of Bridge.
It's curious about the Barber, at 10 minutes one of the shortest operas (why not call it a "scene"?), a 1959 work introduced at the Spoleto Festival about two couples playing a hand of bridge. It will also show up on Opera Parallèle's program in April, along with Bernstein's Trouble in Tahiti, which runs about 40 minutes. Will there be an intermission?
Robin Sutherland's ponytail may be getting shorter, but his indefatigable attitude to music is — if anything — even more youthful and fresh than it was 40 years ago when he became the San Francisco Symphony's principal keyboardist.
Amazingly, he was still an undergraduate at the S.F. Conservatory of Music, studying with Paul Hersh, when Seiji Ozawa appointed him to the position. Even before, Sutherland had the singular honor, at 17, while Rosina Lhevinne's student at Juilliard, to be the only American participant at the International Bach Festival, held at Lincoln Center. Later, he was a finalist in the International Bach Competition in Washington, DC, and has performed all of J.S. Bach’s keyboard works.
An avid chamber musician, Sutherland acted as co-director of the Telluride Players, and has been a regular performer at various chamber concerts. Numerous composers have dedicated works to him; among the world premieres he performed was John Adams’s Grand Pianola Music with SFS.
There are two important appearances scheduled for the pianist:
- As soloist in Ingvar Lidholm’s Poesis in Davies Symphony Hall, April 11-14, at concerts conducted by Herbert Blomstedt (the program also includes Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (Eroica) and Wagner’s Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde). These concerts will be broadcast on 89.9/90.3/104.9 KDFC and kdfc.com at 8 p.m. April 23.
- A special concert at the Conservatory on April 24, called "Forty Years On ...," commemorating both Sutherland's admission to the school and years with SFS. He says of the concert:
Months ago, I decided to make it all collaborative, which (funnily enough) has never been tried around those hallowed halls. It'll begin with the Rachmaninoff Suite #2 for Two Pianos, Op. 17. I will play primo for all of it, and (here's where it gets interesting) I've got four secondo boys, one for each of the movement. They are, in order: Scott Foglesong, Keisuke Nakagoshi, Christopher Basso, and Nicholas Pavkovic. I think it'll almost certainly be the world's first five-man, two-piano suite of Rachmaninov, and maybe I shall even alert the folks at the Guinness Book.
Following that will be the West Coast première of a piece I commissioned from Pavkovic, an amazing composer, in addition to his pianism. He won the Conservatory's Highsmith Prize in 2011, which is the school's highest award in composition. It is a duo for clarinet and piano, commissioned as a first anniversary present for myself and the awesome Colombian clarinetist Carlos Julián Ortega — currently in the master's program at Lynn University in Boca Raton, studying with Jon Manasse.
When I asked Nick for a brief description of the work, entitled Volante, he said: "Picture the wedding of Béla Bartók and Herbie Hancock, as performed by a Latino celebrant." It's a work in three movements, and rather substantial at 22 minutes. It's one of CJ's and my proudest possessions.
After intermission comes the 1st Piano Quartet of Gabriel Fauré, Opus 15. My cohorts will be Ian Swensen, Paul Hersh (wearing his viola hat), and Jennifer Culp, late of the Kronos Quartet. Festive reception after the performance. Here's one quadragenarian alumnus asking you to be there.
The incredible, "only in the movies" story at the Bolshoi Ballet has just taken a startling turn on Tuesday. Ever since the sulfuric acid attack in January on Sergei Filin, artistic director of the company, the search has been on for those responsible, and today three men were arrested by Interior Ministry police.
The most dramatic development in the case of the assault which left Filin, the 42-year-old former dancer, nearly blinded, is the now-public allegation that Bolshoi soloist Pavel Dmitrichenko might have been the instigator of the plot.
The dancer, who has danced the title role in the ballet Ivan the Terrible, was among those arrested, the BBC reported Tuesday evening Moscow time. The initial report also identified 35-year-old Yury Zarutsky, accused of having carried out the attack, in custody.
Interior Ministry spokesman Anatoly Lastovetsky said Dmitrichenko is suspected of planning the attack. Bolshoi Theater spokeswoman Katerina Novikova said management was not aware of a conflict between him and Filin, but Channel One state television reported that Dmitrichenko's girlfriend, also a Bolshoi soloist, was known to have been at odds with Filin.
It has been known for a long time that Bolshoi Theater has been troubled by deep intrigue and infighting backstage; it had led to the departure of several artistic directors over the past few years.
The Abhinaya Dance Company presents Gandhi, choreographed by Rasika and Mythili Kumar, on March 31 (Jackson Theater, Ohlone College, Fremont) and April 6 (Crocker Theater, Cabrillo College, Fremont).
Six decades after the death of Gandhi, known as Mahatma (a great soul), his inspired movements for non-violence, civil rights, and religious tolerance continue to be relevant today — the subject of this South Indian classical dance company's production.
Company artistic director Mythili Kumar dances the title role. The dance-theater production uses the voice of Manubhen, Gandhi's grand-niece, who reminisces about the events that led him to becoming a world figure, through his struggles in South Africa, his civil disobedience movement against the British in India, and his untiring efforts to unify the religious groups in India.
The dance scenes are offered in the classical dance style of Bharatanatyam, which originated in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Since 1986, Abhinaya has staged several full-length dance dramas; the organization is known both for its adherence to tradition and its innovative multi-cultural collaborations.
With Downton Abbey offing the popular Matthew Crawley character in a car crash because actor Dan Stevens was leaving for greener pastures, plans are being made for the next season, including the engagement of soprano Te Kanawa to play a house guest. She will sing during her visit, sources say.
Another, non-musical note is that villainous (and tiresome) housemaid Sarah O'Brien won't be back. Siobhan Finneran, who played her, is leaving the show, probably also looking for other pastures.
Downton Abbey won three Emmy Awards last fall, including a best supporting actress trophy for Maggie Smith (the Dowager Countess), who also won a Golden Globe in January. Good news: she is not leaving.
In all, the series has won nine Emmys, two Golden Globes and a Screen Actors Guild Award for the ensemble cast, which is the first time the cast of a British television show has won this award.
The acclaimed young Israeli cellist Amit Peled is playing a recital in Aptos on March 17, more about that later.
First, let's talk about Pablo Casals and his accident on Mount Tamalpais in 1901.
The great man, then a 24-year-old, was on his first tour of the U.S. and during his stop in San Francisco, he went hiking on Mount Tam. He fell and broke a finger. Besides the pain, he felt relief, thinking he wouldn't have to play again, conquering his acute stage fright.
He wrote later: "One of the most vivid memories [of the tour] was the day on Mount Tamalpais which had almost ended my musical career."
He spent several months in San Francisco, recuperating, his hand regained its strength and agility... and the rest is history.
Earlier this year, the Casals Foundation gave Peled Casals' 1733 Goffriller cello, used by Casals from 1913 until his death in 1973 as his main concert instrument. Amit's response:
It is a huge honor and responsibility and I look forward to getting to know this historic instrument and to sharing its unique voice with audiences around the world.
Growing up in a small Israeli kibbutz, I fell in love with the sound of the cello through listening to the famous recordings of Pablo Casals.
Now, thanks to the generosity of Mrs. Casals Istomin and the Casals Foundation, a dream has come true. I’m overwhelmed with excitement... The smell of the maestro’s pipe is still there.
Before acquiring the Goffriller, Peled made his U.S. debut with San Francisco Performances, followed by his Kennedy Center debut. Peled also appeared with the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, conducted by Nicola Luisotti, performing Haydn’s C Major Cello Concerto.
The March 17 recital, beginning at 3 p.m., will be held in Aptos' Resurrection Church.
The program includes Beethoven's Variations in E-flat, and cello sonatas by Brahms and Chopin.
It's a bizarre item about Turkish basketball stars being ordered to attend a classical concert in Istanbul, there exposed to music that was putting them to sleep until the orchestra struck up a well-known pop song, and there was a flash-mob scene, the entire audience singing, waving team flags, and shouting their support for Anadolu Efes, their team. Probably worth watching, or not.
- Wed May 29, 2013 8:00pm
- Sat June 1, 2013 8:00pm
- Wed June 5, 2013 (All day)
Recent CD Reviews
Gardiner: Bach Cantatas
John Wilson Orchestra: Rodgers & Hammerstein at the Movies
Gordon Getty: Piano Pieces
Emanuel Ax: Variations